Chapter 5: To be or not to be – a professional photographer

Chapter 5: Should you become a professional photographer?

Switch Careers? Love your job? You love photography but does this mean that you should go into photography as a career? Should you give up a regular paycheck to try your luck at becoming a professional photographer? Those who proclaim that “when you love your job, you never have to work a day in your life” certainly are not saying that you will love every aspect of your business as a photographer. A successful photographer in the business of photography is not just doing photography, he probably is spending 20% of his time doing actual photography work, and the 80% doing marketing, accounting, administration, even delivery work and cleaning up the studio, especially when he is starting by going solo.

Shoot, whether you like it or not. Another factor to consider when weighing the decision of whether or not to go professional is your readiness to do photography that is not of your liking. While hobbyists can choose the kind of photography that they would like to do, a professional photographer – to be rightfully deemed a professional – has a responsibility to attend to his clients’ requirements, whether he likes the job or not, and whether he is in the mood or not. This is not to say that he has to accept every job, but acceptance or rejection is no longer based on his personal whim. He must have good reasons for refusing to do certain jobs, otherwise he may be considered as an unreliable and unprofessional photographer. Especially if the job is within his specialization – just about the only reason he can refuse another job is when he is busy. He cannot bump off one client in favor of another just because he likes the other job or the other client better, or because the offer on the other job is higher.

The romance with photography that one has as a hobbyist could disappear when you need to shoot, whether you like it or not. You might be bored with your day time job, and can’t wait for your weekend to come as weekends are for your photography sideline, but when you’re doing six days of photography, it’s possible that you can’t wait to put down your camera and do some coding. So before you quit your job, try getting an extended leave of absence and try to saturate your days with photography – especially with pretend-job projects that you don’t really care about. How do you feel when your weekend job becomes your full-time job?

Studio or On location? Do you need a studio? Depending on the type of photography you’ve decided you want to get into, you may or may not need a studio. In fact, if you can do without a studio in the beginning, so much the better. If you wish to be a portrait photographer, you could offer your services by suggesting that you do your set ups in your clients’ homes. You could convince them that their homes are the most natural settings for family portraits, and children as well as pets do not have to feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar studio set ups. Toys – for children or pets – are readily available. Your subjects can easily change clothes. They have furniture that you can use for posing them.

On the other hand, photographing subjects in their own homes means that you, as photographer, would have to lug around your equipment, and do set ups for each person or group of persons. Having a studio allows you to set up your lights in a more or less permanent arrangement, with just minor rearrangements. You don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time travelling from one place to another – or getting lost in an unfamiliar place. Instead, you can schedule different clients as close as possible to each other. Of course, the biggest obstacle to setting up your own studio is the expense of renting and maintaining such a place.

Go solo, have a partner or employ your team? Unless you’re going to work as a photojournalist or travel photographer, you probably need at least one other person to work with you. It could be an assistant who will help carry your equipment, or it could be a sales person who will help find customers. And of course, a very capable partner could be both – an assistant and a photographer’s rep.

When John and I started Adphoto, we shared responsibilities. John very early on declared “I just want to shoot!” so that meant that I was to be photographer’s assistant (helping carry, or at least watch, his equipment), assistant photographer (helping out by shooting with a second camera when we were doing photo coverages), photographer’s rep (called an Account Executive or AE in our industry) by presenting his portfolio to art directors and print producers. But it also meant I was everything else – receptionist, secretary, messenger, janitress, and of course, manager.

You know that the business of photography is both photography AND business. Just as photography does not mean only to shoot, but to process, file, and probably edit as well as print, business is also not just sales, but also marketing, accounting and finance, and human resource management. You and your partner, or your employee, if you have one, would have to do all that needs to be done to run your business.

Start Big or Small? I probably cannot give any advice on how to start big. Photography is the only business we have, and we started very small. I would not say that it’s ideal to start small, as we could have avoided a lot of difficulties and challenges – like being under-equipped and under-financed – if only we could afford to start big. We could have risen much faster. We could have avoided doing all the work ourselves, and we could have had regular sleep hours, if only we had the means to start big. But, no regrets. ☺

Where to find capital? The best and first source of capital is your own savings, but you and your partners could pool your funds together so that you could avoid being undercapitalized. Even if you are informally partnering with friends or relatives, and especially if you are bringing in non-cash capital, it is important that you agree on the valuation of these non-cash capital. To avoid misunderstandings, please put down in writing what each partner is bringing into the business. Agree on whether each of you could use each other’s equipment, or if it would still be “to each his own.” Find another method for proper valuation if you are not pooling equipment and other non-cash capital contributions. Agree on how to divide profits, based on what (cash, equipment, furniture, labor, contacts) each brings into the partnership.

Specialize or be Jack-of-all-trades? While being a jack-of-all-trades could bring you jobs to fill up your many vacant hours, it does not help for clients to think of you for specific work. Photographers should aim to be top-of-mind, and being top-of-mind comes easily when you are the only one doing that kind of work. Your ultimate aim, therefore, is not simply to be among the best, but to be the only one capable of doing the kind of photography that you do. John is always trying to reinvent himself, because followers follow closely, right at your heels, although when you make great strides and bold steps, it may take a bit of time before the copycats can follow in your footsteps.

At the beginning when we were doing product shots, we belonged to a pack of photographers, and could not “float to the top.” There were just too many of us who were capable of lighting boxes, bottles and cans. But we soon gained the reputation for shooting highly-reflective, and therefore problematic, foil packages, and we started to get more of those kinds of shoots.

Then, we expanded our studio kitchen, we attracted more food set ups. Foodstylists preferred working with us because they had more room to put down their ingredients, tools and props, and they were just more comfortable with more elbow room. We also equipped our studio kitchen with a sink, stove, an electric oven, a microwave, and in addition to counters, we had lots of folding tables that we could set up or put away according to their needs.

When other photographers started to offer similar kitchen set ups, we had to stay in lead role by offering something that nobody else offered. In 1992, that was the first studio for car photography. There were already car studios but they were owned and operated by film/video companies, but Adphoto was the first to open a car photography studio for print advertising. It was such a giant leap for a print photographer that it took our nearest competitor five years to offer a similar size and set up of a studio.

Other Plans after College. Whether to get right into the business of photography, or explore other opportunities after getting out of college is up to you. There is no right or wrong way. Getting into other things, or getting work experiences elsewhere could give you broader and deeper insights.

Apprentice with another photographer? Another decision you need to make is whether it would advance your career if you postponed starting on your own, by working first with a more established photographer.

There are pros and cons. Working with an established studio will provide you with insights on the day-to-day challenges of a professional photographer, introduction to systems and procedures, and getting introduced to possible future clients. You may even be given the opportunity to join the company as one of its owners. On the other hand, another photographer may put his “stamp” on you that you may never get to shake off, even when you are on your own.

Think before you leap, or just jump in? It’s your choice, of course, but try to answer the above questions so you could assess your readiness for a challenging career in professional photography.

Chapter Three : Handling Competitors

Chapter Three : Identifying and Linking up with your competitors

This chapter needed a bit of reworking because I was sleepy and tired when I wrote this. This explains why I posted Chapter Four before Chapter Three.

1. Join trade organizations, photography clubs
2. Check out trade shows
3. Check them out in the workplace
4. Collaborate with competitors

There is a saying that we should keep our friends close to our chest, and our enemies, closer. It’s probably not right to call our competitors as enemies but in some sense, they are. They don’t need to be. They can be friends, they can be collaborators, and if you found generous and kind-hearted competitors, they might even be your mentors.

Part of knowing how to run your business is knowing who your competitors are, and what to do with them.

First, how do you find them? Depending on your specialization, there are different ways. Many wedding photographers congregate and participate at wedding fairs, and belong to organizations like the Wedding and Portrait Photographers’ of the Philippines. Photojournalists may belong to photo agencies, and of course, you’ll bump into each other whenever and wherever news-breaking events are happening. Advertising photographers often meet their competitors at bidding conferences called by advertising agencies for the purpose of telling photographers what their requirements are. You could also meet them when you attend seminars and workshops offered by practitioners in their fields of expertise. Hang out long enough at your favorite photo stores, say at R. Hidalgo, and you will probably meet some of them. Perhaps the biggest event for photographers in the Philippines is “Photoworld Asia,” a yearly event consisting of seminars and workshops, as well as a trade show at the Glorietta Mall in Makati, and to a lesser extent, the Graphic and Print Expo.

Don’t fear or antagonize your competitors. Instead, befriend them. There is much to gain from having them on your side. Some competitors are willing to share what they know, and may even welcome you to their studios. They could name suppliers and distributors of products you seek; give their opinions on cameras, equipment or software; discuss techniques; refer you to clients or customers whom they can’t serve (they may be overloaded, or the service is not something they do). One of our closest competitors in food photography once referred a client to us when this client needed aerial photography, with a message to both us and his client that he is afraid of flying.

Unite fellow photographers. If there is no trade association among photographers in your field of specialization, you could initiate the move to organize one. You could pool resources together, or rent out equipment or facilities to each other. You could organize get-togethers with fellow photographers for some “show-and-tell,” swapping forms and contract templates, “share-a-book” (since photography books are expensive or hard to come by), or garage sales for equipment. Nowadays, although you won’t need to regularly meet – just forming a group page on Facebook could help you to update each other – it’s still nice to do “meet-ups” once in a while.

Be a friendly competitor. If you and a competing photographer are bidding for the same project, it may be unethical to consult each other about the bids that you would submit. You would not want to be accused of price fixing, but there is no reason why you can’t consult each other about other details of the project. However, if you bidded against a competitor-friend, and won the bid, your competitor-friend may not take it kindly if you would borrow equipment or consult with him about the project that he just lost to you.

Consult with each other. During times when you are not directly competing with each other, try to find fellow photographers who are open to sharing information. Make sure that you contribute to the discussion so that it’s not a one-way street. It has to be give-and-take.

Never put down competitors when talking about them with customers, especially if you are bidding against each other for the same job, whether before or after the bids. If you lost to a competitor, be gracious enough to say, “I’m sure you saw merit in giving him the project. I hope next time I would have a chance to serve you.” You don’t need to fall all over yourself in praising your competitor to prove that you’re a good sport. A simple acknowledgement that client found him better for that particular job would suffice. If, on the other hand, you won the bid (hopefully not because your price was lower), please don’t gloat and don’t emphasize that you are indeed the better photographer. Just thank your client for his trust, and make sure you live up to it.

If the other photographer is not a sore loser, and if you have access to information on bid prices, you may be able to share the information that your price was not lower. Knowing that you won on the basis of other merits could encourage other photographers not to compete on the basis of price, and to try raising their prices. Competing by lowering prices is detrimental not only to you but to all photographers, so don’t contribute to a downward spiral of pricing that would bring everyone down, including yourself.

In the early 1970’s when we were new in the market, I learned that clients do not necessarily give the job to the lowest bidder. At one of the photography projects, we were competing against a well-known photographer. We were new in the industry, and when we lost to him, I had assumed that he won the bid because his price was lower. That was shocking and unbelievable, as we were beginners and I was sure that he could not have submitted a lower bid. I had mistakenly thought that bidding for photography jobs were conducted like construction bids, or among sellers of even same-brand products, where lowest bids win. Curious, I asked my client for the difference in our bids, and to my astonishment, I was told that my winning competitor actually submitted a much-higher bid. He confessed that his boss was happy working with our competitor and liked to brag that the other better known, more prestigious and more expensive photographer was doing all the photography requirements for their company. From that time on, I no longer assumed that when we lose it was because our bid was higher, and that we could actually win bids even when they were. It pays to ask gently and respectfully, and never in a confrontational way, why we lost to competitors. Clients may be able to point out strengths and merits of competitors that we can aim to achieve. By being friendly with both clients and competitors, and being good sports, we began to win projects when the other photographer was not available – allowing us “a foot in the door.” Eventually, we proved ourselves, and got noticed and recognized more meritorious by the “boss” and became the regular and favored photographer.

If, for some reason, you become the favored photographer, and your client shows you a competitor’s bid in an attempt to convince you to lower your bid, make sure that the information you are getting is correct and factual, and do not be tempted to undercut your competitor. Defend the integrity of your pricing. The fact that you are being shown a competitor’s bid means that the client likes you for a reason, and may actually be already inclined to give you the job, and may just be trying to whittle down your bid. Or, if you are tempted to lower your price to win the job, at the very least, match your competitor’s bid, instead of pricing yourself lower. Tables could be turned, someday, and you may find yourself as the not-so-favored bidder. If you stuck to your higher price or at least, to match the lower bid, then your client must decide on who is the better photographer, and not award the project to the lowest bidder. Compete on your merits, not on the basis of price.

Be willing to share what you know, and you will find that other people will do the same to you. There is probably no secret that you cannot find on YouTube, so you may still be tightly guarding a secret that everybody already knows. Of course, you still have the responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of your project, and you would have to wait until after your client has published their ad before you can go around proclaiming how it was done, or that you did it. Similarly, if you are a wedding photographer, you also have the right and responsibility not to divulge the names of your prospective bridal couple until the wedding is over.

As soon as we organized Adphoto in 1973, we looked for photographers’ groups, especially in our industry. However, there was no advertising photographers’ group then, so we joined the more generic “Professional Photographers Association of the Philippines (PPAP),” a motley group of portrait, wedding, lab processing and printing, and advertising studios. Most of the members were portrait studios, like Bob’s, X-Or and Brown Studio, a travel photographer, Joe Sarmiento (father of former Philippine Daily Inquirer photo editor Ernie Sarmiento) and Mrs. Eduviges Huang, now head of the Federation of Pilipino Photographers Foundation, who was then a busy portrait, wedding and advertising photographer. She had graduated from Brooks Institute and was the only one we knew then who had formal training in photography.

We joined PPAP, which held monthly meetings, where photo techniques would be discussed. I also learned from PPAP officers about a magazine on photography, called The Photographer, which was a monthly publication of the Professional Photographers of America. The magazine became for John and myself the only educational materials on photography, and the business of photography, that we could receive in the Philippines in those days.

Being a member of the PPAP also helped us to get to know where to source certain materials. I learned that we could order supplies directly and get 45-day credit from Kodak, which was better than getting cash purchases from their dealers. Having been introduced to Kodak, I finally got access to their product list, which included a book on the Principles of Management of a Photography Business. We also chanced upon a hardbound book called, Advertising Photography (Before Powerbooks and Fully Booked, specialty books were hard to find). These items were on special order, and we waited months before they got here. (I have since lost those two books, but fellow CSB faculty member and former Kodak sales representative, Dennis Araneta, still has his copy of the business of photography book and has offered to lend it to me.

We learned not only about big institutions like Kodak, but also about “hole-in-the-wall” photo stores like “Strong’s” (owned by an American old-timer, Albert Strong) that was selling surplus photography materials from American bases.

Another competitor-friend, Danny Feliciano, of Lens Center was kind enough to invite us to his first photo exhibit, to visit his studio which he shared with other advertising photographers, lent us 4×5 camera and very patiently explained photographic processes to us. He also lent us his studio’s standard rate sheet, which became my main reference for pricing.

At one time, we organized a PPAP-organized garage sale of photography equipment. It was held in our, well, garage.

Some competitors, we met at work. As I visited advertising agencies, I would often bump into other photographers or their representatives. In those days, photographers’ sales reps were often also their wives.

I learned that different photographers have different attitudes towards their competitors. One really successful photographer was very secretive about his work that he would not welcome even a close relative, who also happened to be a photographer, into his studio when he had a shoot.

One photographer, who was showing off his work on a special technique called solarization or posterization when John approached him to inquire about the process, curtly told him “It’s a trade secret.” John did not insist on asking him, did his own research and eventually learned how it was done. It was then that John told me that his wish was that when he was more experienced that he would be more open with what he knew.

I particularly remember an older photographer who was also known for being very secretive about his less-known technique. We were attending a seminar with a foreign speaker, and when he became persistent with questions on techniques, one fellow seminar participant openly rebuked him for insisting to be told special techniques when he himself was tightly guarding his “secrets.” He learned to be more open after that incident.

Thankfully, other photographers we met in the old days were eager to interact with fellow photographers. After all, in those days, there were no schools, hardly any books, and no Internet or YouTube, and the only way to learn was from each other.

In the late 70’s, Eduviges Huang, portrait, wedding and advertising photographer, and an officer of the PPAP, and I thought of organizing a group of photographers who specialized in advertising. She already had a list of portrait photographers but advertising photographers were more elusive. It was not easy to get to know who they were as they mostly operated from their homes, unlike portrait studios who had more formal and more accessible studios. Together with Kodak, she organized an initial meeting, calling on advertising photographers. Kodak knew who these photographers were, as they bought films, chemicals and papers from them. Our first meeting produced about 40 photographers, including full-time and part-time advertising photographers. We formed a formal group called Advertising Photographers’ League (APL) and voted for president, an American-born Filipino who studied photography in the U.S. Unfortunately, the growing unrest in the country made him nervous about anti-American feelings, and he and his wife packed their bags and left the country. We could not continue as APL, and later re-organized as the Advertising Photographers of the Philippines.

At about the same time, the different suppliers to the advertising industry were forming a group, later to be called the Advertising Suppliers Association of the Philippines (APP). While it was not a federation, individual members were asked to form sectors, and one of the sectors was composed of advertising photographers.

One of the challenges to forming an association of advertising photographers, whether as a sector of a larger org or as an entire organization, is the irregular working hours of these photographers. Meetings would sometimes be scheduled and attendance confirmed, but photographers would be no-shows at meetings when jobs are suddenly scheduled or when shoots are not finished on time. Sadly, the APP is largely inactive and has not met in a few years.

I remember that when I was getting discouraged about succeeding in forming an organization of advertising photographers, John would say, go with whoever wants to join your group. If there are only two of you, that’s fine, you’re a pair. If there’s three of you, then you’re a trio, and if you have three other members, then you’re a gang of four, referencing the infamous Chinese “gang of four” led by the wife of Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse Tung). Maybe this should continue to be my thinking, and try once again to get the APP to regroup or form a new group.

John’s and my personal belief is that we can’t move to higher grounds (such as success or better, bigger business) unless we are taking someone along with us. For this reason, we train people to eventually take our place, and provide opportunities for them to learn. This includes taking in apprentices and job trainees, and teaching them what we know. And if our “students” do better than we, then that should be reason to celebrate, and to challenge ourselves to upgrade what we know or to reinvent ourselves. Some of these former assistants graduate to become competitors, and we have remained in good and friendly terms.

One of our values is also to be “inclusive,” which means everyone is within a circle. We treat competitors as allies rather than as “enemies.” When we share ideas, those ideas grow. Even when our ideas and beliefs sometimes differ, we realize that those differences eventually lead to synthesis – or a better idea for everyone. Everyone benefits from cooperation. Even when we are trying to compete against each other for our own slice of business, we can remain friendly competitors.

One of the most fun moments that proved that Adphoto is “inclusive,” was at one photography event. Our entire staff was there, so we called for a souvenir group shot. Right after, a former employee called out for us to be joined by all former employees, and we became a larger group. Then one photographer announced, “Everyone who has ever had processing or printing done by Adphoto, please join!” (we used to do black&white developing and printing, and Ektachrome processing, for other photographers), and practically everyone in the room joined us for one grand group photo. That was a proud moment for all of us.

Chapter 4: Creating your own company

Chapter 4 Draft: Different types of businesses. Deciding on the type of business suitable for you.
a. Different types of businesses: sole proprietorship, corporations, partnerships
b. Registering your business

There are three basic types of business ownership – single proprietorship, partnerships or corporations – and it is up to the photographer who is contemplating on getting started into the business of photography to chose the business personality that is best and most suitable for him and his partners, if he has any.

It is also possible to start as one kind and to change to another, depending on your purpose and objectives, but probably not to be shifting back and forth from one type of business organization to another.

There are pros and cons to choosing one type or another. Consider your intentions, the people who are or who are going to be involved in your business, your time frame, the benefits and disadvantages of one type over another as they relate to you, your decision functions and responsibilities and how they would be shared with others, what kind of expertise are needed to run the business and if you could provide all of them, if you could provide all the capital or if you need other investors and many others.

The simplest, but not necessarily the best, is to be a sole proprietorship. The business is all yours – your capital (cash, equipment, other resources), your decision function, providing or owning assets, shouldering liabilities, earning profits or suffering losses. It does not mean that you would have to do all the work. You could hire people to do certain functions that you would not do yourself but over which you have the responsibility to manage or supervise. Legally, you can’t pay yourself a salary and consider that as an expense. You pay yourself by withdrawing from the profits of your business. If you are doing most of the work – as photographer and as manager – this could very well lead you to overstate your profit, as you are not paying yourself for these responsibilities that you are assuming. You just have to know that what you see as “profit,” is really not profit.

(inquire from a lawyer if partnerships are allowed for non-professional partnerships, such as partnerships between photographers, and for the following references to what the BIR or SEC consider about “professionals”).

Partnerships are like sole proprietorships, except that you have someone with whom to share your business. However, legally, a partnership is treated more like a corporation. (Please do not confuse your partnership with professional partnerships, which is composed of licensed professionals, meaning doctors, CPAs, engineers, etc. While photographers like to call themselves “professional” to differentiate themselves from “amateurs,” the term “professional” as far as the SEC and BIR are concerned refers to those who have passed government board and bar exams and therefore licensed to practice their profession). Similar to a sole proprietorship, you pay yourselves from the profits of your business, and not as employees of your business. You would need to define each other’s share in the business, including arriving at valuations of assets you each bring into the business, and work and responsibilities assumed in the course of the business. While it may be tempting to split up profits after each project, partners must remember that all businesses need re-investments in order to grow, so a certain amount must be kept in the business coffers, or invested to upgrade equipment, facilities and even skills. (Consult a lawyer about this chapter).

Corporations limit the responsibilities of incorporators to such as stated in the articles of incorporation. There is also a distinct division of personal assets and liabilities from those invested in the companies. The company assumes a distinct legal personality that is separate from the personalities of the incorporators and shareholders, and the company may or may not hire incorporators and shareholders as employees of the company. Therefore, employees (whether shareholders or not) are paid by companies for services rendered and salaries and benefits paid to them – up to reasonable limits as defined by law – are considered legal expenses of the corporations, whereas shareholders only share in the profits when dividends are declared by the directors of the corporation. A corporation, therefore, presents in accounting terms, a more realistic statement of profits and losses, assets and liabilities and other required financial statements. More importantly, the liabilities of shareholders are only up to the extent of their stock ownership, and unless they co-sign in their personal capacities, they do not expose their other personal assets to risk exposures taken on by the corporation.

Which one is right for you? Understand the pros and cons of each type of business and decide for yourself what is best for you.

In 1973, when we set up Adphoto, we registered it as Adphoto Philippines, a sole proprietorship under my name. John was listed as an employee, and not as a partner. But in reality, we ran it like a partnership, and decision functions were split between the two of us. It worked well (but not always) even as we added other employees – a messenger, a printer and a photographer’s assistant. Soon, as business grew, we even added a secretary.

The main challenge in the beginning years was getting credit. Most banks do not look too well at sole proprietorships, and were willing to grant only consumer loans – like loans to buy TVs or other appliances – and not loans for photo equipment. So we sought to acquire additional capital by signing up for loans from informal sources. We also knew that if we were ever sued, that we stood to lose everything that we owned, since the business was registered as a sole proprietorship.

In 1985, since we had grown to include more employees, including a sales person, an accountant, a darkroom person, photographer’s assistant, messenger and secretary, we aimed to incorporate. John and I didn’t just want them to feel that they were owners of Adphoto, we wanted them to actually own the company. We found a lawyer who wrote the required articles of incorporation and by-laws, and we presented the drafts of these documents and the idea of a corporation to our staff. But, at that point, no one was interested, and even inquired if the business was losing money, or why we were selling shares of stock, if we were doing alright financially. We went ahead and incorporated. For the new corporation, Adphoto, Inc., we needed five incorporators, and to John and myself, we added the three oldest employees as directors.

Even then, our people were not eager to buy into the company. One day, when we were distributing dividends, I called to a meeting not only the shareholders, but also all employees. I held vouchers and checks representing dividends, and I distributed them. Naturally, some got checks and some did not. Those who did not get checks asked me why they did not get “bonuses” like the others, and that gave me the opportunity to explain what dividend checks were, and how they, too, could get them. I explained about the risks of investing – you could lose your investments when a company suffers losses, as well as the benefits of investing, when the company is profitable. Eventually, we attracted investors from among our own employees.

Shareholdings are not limited to those held by employees. It is possible to take in other shareholders who do not work for your company as employees. But by inviting employees to be shareholders, we actually make them co-owners of the company, and they know that whatever they do for the company, they do for themselves. John and I still own majority shares, but I am looking forward to the day when our own people will own their fair share of shares, and run the company like a true corporation.

The other upside to incorporating is the greater respect earned in the industry. We are not just a “mom-and-pop” operation, we are a “company.” It’s a reason you might want to consider when you are deciding on the nature of your company.

Whether your photography business is going to be a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation, you would need to register your business with the government. There is really no need to go into details here as you can search on the Internet about how to register your business. The government offices that you would need to inquire about registering your business are:

For sole proprietorships: Municipal or City Hall, which includes registering with your barangay; Department of Trade and Industry; and Bureau of Internal Revenue.

For Corporations: Municipal or City Hall (again, including registering with your barangay), Department of Trade and Industry, Securities and Exchange Commission and Bureau of Internal Revenue. The Bureau of Internal Revenue will issue your company a separate Tax Identification Number, which is different from your personal Tax Identification Number. Same with Social Security Number.

When you have employees, you also need to register your company with Social Security System, Philhealth and Pag-ibig.

Be prepared with the following personal documents or numbers: NSO-registered birth certificate, Tax Identification Number, Barangay Clearance. If you have a valid passport, your passport number can be used instead of a Residence Certificate, when filling up documents that need to be notarized. Municipal, city and barangay governments require other documents – your contract of lease, if you are renting your office, or land titles, tax declarations, occupancy permits, if you are holding office in your own property. Some city governments now also require medical certificates from all your employees.

Consider yourself lucky if your city offers a One-Stop Shop for licensing your business. Do inquire before embarking on the tedious process of registering at each of the aforementioned government offices.

When you have gotten your required registration numbers from the various government offices, then you can go to a bank to apply for a bank account for your company or sole proprietorship. You can also start to print official receipts or invoices, with accredited printing presses. The printing company can guide and assist you regarding BIR regulations and BIR-mandated features of your bills and official receipts.

You may also wish to register your logo or brand name (if you’re using one) with the Intellectual Property Office.

And then, you are ready to go into business – your business of photography.

Note to editor: Ask lawyer to look over this chapter for his inputs.

Chapter 2 Defining Your Target Market and Creating a Client Database

Today’s photographers are lucky – through the Internet, they have the whole wide world at their fingertips. That certainly beats the Yellow Pages slogan “Let your fingers do the walking” in the early 1970’s when we were just starting.

But while the web can give you information on the world, you would still need to define who your target market is, and to actually create a database of your prospective clients. Hopefully, you can later move up your prospective clients as current clients.

Start by defining the demographics of your target audience. Depending on the type of photography that you are doing, this could refer, whether to people or companies, to a geographic location, an economic level or activity, age, interests. You could set your own parameters.

Although in the 70’s when we were just starting we did not know how to segment the market, we somehow knew that we had to target customers. In our case, we targeted advertising agencies, and the main source of my listing was the Yellow Pages. I picked up the (used to be) big, thick book, and looked under “Advertising Agencies.” Then I called and asked the receptionist/operator whom I should talk to about presenting John’s portfolio. In sales lingo, this is called “a cold call.” I made sure that I got the name of the person I needed to talk to so that, by the time the call was transferred, I was addressing him by his name (family name, of course) and I knew that he was a Creative Director. It wasn’t too cold anymore.

(I had a lot of experience in doing cold calls. Right after college, I sold encyclopedias. After a morning of sales training, our field manager would drop us off at a street (his choice, not ours) in Metro Manila, or any Philippine city where we would be selling, and we would survey the street for possible sales targets. Sometimes, gates and doors would be slammed on our faces, and sometimes, we would be welcomed into strangers’ homes and even treated to refreshments. We were told not to be disheartened by rejections because the next one might be The One who would sign on the dotted lines).

Target markets could be individuals, or they could be companies. For example, if, like what we do, you would like to target businesses instead of individuals, then you’re in business to business (B2B). We look further at limiting this market, as we can’t possibly service all companies. In our case, since presently we have three photographers of varying expertise, we have defined our target market as being in the automotive, food, personal care/cosmetics/fashion, manufacturing, industrial and real estate sectors.

While it was just six months after martial law was declared when we set up Adphoto, and we were accustomed to the slow advertising business of the 1970’s, we were totally unprepared for the great blow to the industry that a tragic event created. It was August 1983, and Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. And that solitary event almost shut down the advertising industry. The Philippine economy went for a nosedive, advertising was almost non-existed and many industries contracted. In the face of uncertainty, advertisers pulled out their ads from newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The 1983 advertising congress, which traditionally was a well-attended event as industry folks troop to Baguio to fete their colleagues, felt more like a wake, and industry practitioners were saying good-bye to each other.

The advertising industry was in crisis, and as advertising photographers, we were similarly threatened. John told me to call on clients during the day, do paperwork at night and to accept whatever work came our way. But that approach to work was completely draining. Every night, I would be exhausted! I told myself that there must be a better way than trying to run after every possible client. We needed to focus our efforts instead of spreading ourselves thinly. Why not analyze the situation and ask ourselves the crucial question: what companies or industries would survive, or even prosper, when the economy is floundering?

We placed our bet on the food and pharmaceutical industries. Rationalizing our choices, we argued that no matter how badly the Philippine economy went, people would still have to eat, and to buy medicines. We ran after companies in these two sectors, but later decided to focus on food, since many restrictions on advertising for drugs reduced income possibilities or profits from that sector.

It did not mean that we did photography only for those industries. We, of course, accepted everything that came our way, as we needed to survive. But our marketing effort was concentrated on the food industry sector. Our investments in the business were aligned with that marketing direction – we renovated and expanded our studio kitchen, we bought plates and cutlery that could be used as props, we purchased backgrounds and table surfaces that food clients often asked for, and all that paid off. We became known as food photographers.

To go back to how to segment your market – define and describe the kind of customers you would like to have, and align all your efforts – including choosing a location for your studio, purchase of equipment, improvement of your facilities and enhancement of your skills in the type of photography that would cater to the market that you have identified.

We know of one portrait photographer who had identified high society matrons to be the market for his photography. He dressed accordingly, attended exclusive parties (for sure he was invited since he moved in their circle), and got seen in the society pages of newspapers and magazines. He was and still is in demand, and it probably helps that he lives in the U.S., occasionally coming to the Philippines, adding to his image (and branding) as a celebrity photographer.

Just in case these tips still faze you and you still don’t know whom to target as your market, you may want to derive inspiration from author, Harvey Mackay. When he started out as an envelope salesman, he didn’t know where to find customers. So he identified his company’s biggest competitor, and went to their offices. He parked his car near where this competitor’s delivery trucks exited, and when one came out, he followed the truck. As the deliveryman unloaded boxes of envelopes, he noted down names and addresses of where deliveries were made. At the end of day, he had his list of prospective clients!

Another way is simply to decide who or what you would like to photograph, and take it from there. Some photographers only choose to target the top 1000 corporations. Others cater only to children, as children’s portraiture is what they have specialized in. Many photographers have found their fortune in doing school photography. Or weddings.

Once you have decided what or whom you would like to photograph, by broadly identifying your target market, you would want to work on the finer strokes – looking at smaller segments of these broader sections of possible customers. I have a student, who when asked for the niche she would like to pursue said, “fashion.” Following Tony Luna’s challenge to look for the smallest niche (Tony Luna: Lifecycle of a Freelance Photography Job), I asked her, what’s smaller than “fashion photography” answered with a giggle “men’s fashion.” Other students followed through with various answers “children’s fashion,” “infants’ fashion,” “senior fashion,” “big size fashion,” “gay fashion,” and “ethnic fashion.” The list continued to grow, and this is the challenge you might want to pursue – how small a niche can you find.

Baby portraiture is a popular niche, and many portrait photographers include babies in their repertoire of portraits. However, usually, photographers wait until babies are about between four and six months old so that they can be posed sitting down, and at that point, already be reacting and interacting with photographers. It would be easier then to get them to smile. Anne Geddes, an Australian-born photographer, on the other hand, sought to photograph an even smaller niche, not just babies but newborns, and thus succeeded in setting a trend in infant photography. After finding and identifying a sub-niche, she then went on to very creatively expand the various situations that she photographed newborns – not with usual props or situations like a child’s chair, or a blanket, but in baskets, flowers, vases, pails – or simply contained in the big and strong hands of their fathers. Beyond doing portraits, she further expanded the products that featured these photographs. She produced cards, stationaries, posters, boxes, calendars, and even coffee-table books.

Once you have decided on your intended niche, draw up a list of those whom you would like to win as accounts, customers or clients, and add their contact info and other bits of information about them. This is the process of creating a Client Database. For personal portraits – such as for infants – it may take some sleuthing and proactive efforts to connect with your prospective clients. I’ve known of photographers who have made arrangements with hospitals to take photos of newborns and offer them for free to mothers. Try vets’ clinics, if you are doing pet photography. (You can do this on an Excel spreadsheet or use a contact management software/app). Or, in a reverse process, your list could grow when you have “put yourself out there” through advertising or social media marketing, and prospective customers call you. Sometimes, additions to your clients’ database could come from your inspired actions. When one of our account executives bagged a job, I asked how she found her client. She said she was caught in heavy traffic and noticed a truck next to her car. It had big photographic sticker panels, and she copied down the name and contact info of the company. She pursued that lead, and voila, she found a new client!

Students have often told me that they’ve heard that to get started in business, they would need connections, but I like to say that it’s not the connections that they (or their parents) have, but the connections that they make and the connections that they keep that will help them succeed in business.

It’s your turn now to decide on your niche, and to start creating your client database. Make and keep your connections, and you’re on your way to succeeding in the business of photography.